First Congresswoman Michele Bachmann put the “shot heard ’round the world” in New Hampshire, and now this — Sarah Palin says Paul Revere rode out to warn the British not to mess with the well-armed Colonials, somehow turning the American Revolution into a fight over the right to bear arms.

Listen my children and you shall hear


Of Palin’s gaffe and Paul Revere,


Who, on the 18th of April in seventy-five,


Warned the redcoats of a Colonial drive,


A reversal of history, this is clear.


— All apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


 


First Congresswoman Michele Bachmann put the “shot heard ’round the world” in New Hampshire, and now this — Sarah Palin says Paul Revere rode out to warn the British not to mess with the well-armed Colonials, somehow turning the American Revolution into a fight over the right to bear arms.


Before these would-be presidential candidates run for the office, could they at least get a children’s-coloring-book grasp of U.S. history?


Please?


At this rate it will be the British who threw tea into Boston Harbor to teach the Colonials a lesson about what it would be like to live independently and without luxuries like tea. It will be Henry Knox who dragged the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to give them to the British as a parting gift for leaving Boston. It will be the United States troops who fired on their own men at Fort Sumter. And it will be, as Bluto said in “Animal House,” the Germans who bombed Pearl Harbor.


Palin’s initial gaffe, made as an offhand comment in a non-campaign-stop campaign stop, is somewhat forgivable. People often flip words and intentions, saying one thing when they mean something else. Or they mix one factoid with another.


Had Palin simply said, “Hey, I obviously misspoke. What I was trying to say was the British captured Paul Revere and at that point he gave them false information about the size and strength of the Minutemen awaiting them,” we could all pretty much accept that and move on.


Instead, Palin went on Fox News and insisted she was right — Revere had warned the British, that they weren’t going to take our guns away so easily.


The Fox anchorman smiled and nodded pleasantly as Palin prattled on, this time in a planned, conscious defense of her gaffe.


Take our guns away?


The American Revolution started over economics, not over the right to bear arms. The colonists, or at least some of them, were tired of being treated as a resource for the British crown, with no representation or say in how their taxes should be spent. They simply wanted the same rights granted British subjects back home.


The crown had started raising colonial taxes to help pay for the French and Indian War, which to the crown’s way of thinking, was fought to protect the colonists who should at least help pay for the war.


The colonies, from the crown’s point of view, existed primarily to supply the home isle with raw materials and to consume finished goods from England.


“Taxation without representation!” Remember?


The fact is, Revere didn’t get to warn many folks about the redcoats — and he would have said “redcoats” or “regulars,” not “British,” as the colonists still considered themselves British at the time.


Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Revere didn’t ride out to “every Middlesex village and farm.” The redcoats captured Revere and compatriot William Dawes at a roadblock just outside Lexington. A third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott, got through and actually was the one to spread the alarm more widely.


Upon his capture, Revere gave the redcoats false information, greatly exaggerating the strength of the colonial forces awaiting them, perhaps in an effort to dissuade them from marching at all. To some degree the ruse worked, as they let Revere go.


Revere didn’t “ring bells,” as Palin said. Nor did Dawes. Nor did Prescott. They wouldn’t have had time, although one can easily imagine a local patriot ringing the local church bell to gather the Minutemen.


Nor was Revere a currier, as Palin said, although he did retrieve important papers after his release that John Hancock — the man, not the insurance company, Sarah — left in a Lexington tavern.


Revere, Dawes and Prescott, who in another time might have been a noteworthy silversmith, a shoemaker and a doctor, were men who rose up to answer a radical notion that they should have a say as to how they were governed and how their taxes should be spent. They did so with bravery and with utmost stealth. They were trying to slip past the redcoats, not to warn them.


More than Palin’s original gaffe, her bumbling defense flies in the face of the facts as best we know them. It speaks to an ignorance of basic U.S. history most of us learn in grade and middle school. Worse, it speaks to a willingness to warp facts to fit an agenda and doesn’t bode well for her ability to lead this country.


Dan Mac Alpine is senior editor of the Ipswich (Mass.) Chronicle.